Published: Monday, April 26, 2010
Some taxpayers are outraged at the billions of dollars given to General Motors (GM). The company had nearly four decades to realize they needed to build cars that people want to buy. Despite all the signs, they changed at a glacial pace and many feel GM should reap what they've sown.
Over a similar timeframe, B2B buyers are resentful that vendors have not appreciably changed their selling approaches. Buyers and vendors alike have come to realize that despite the hype, CRM has had minimal positive impact in improving buying experiences. Buyers still perceive traditional selling as attempts to convince, persuade and manipulate them. Few vendors have been able to change their view of selling to that of facilitating the buying process.
While CRM has not moved the needle, technology has empowered buyers to change the sales landscape. The Internet provides a way for buyers to minimize a salesperson's influence on their buying decisions, analogous to how ATM's and kiosks facilitate self-service. Search engines, Websites, Webinars and social networking allow buyers to avoid interacting with salespeople early in buying cycles. Today, many buyers develop needs on their own. Their list of requirements is not based upon the offering of a single vendor, but rather an aggregate of everything they've read or heard by leveraging the Internet. After researching vendors and offerings, a buyer proactively contacting a seller is no longer a "blank canvas" as it relates to their needs and requirements. In these cases, there may be no "Column A" (preferred) vendor.
These new buying behaviors have profound implications in challenging sales organizations to change how they align with these buyers. Vendors that adjust to the new reality can provide a superior buying experience and enjoy a sustainable competitive advantage. As you'd expect, more than lip service is necessary to achieve that objective. An ever-increasing percentage of initial interactions with potential buyers are electronic.
Vendors with an average four-month sales cycle find it takes some buyers or organizations two years to get ready to buy. Instead of using two categories of buyers looking/not looking to change, I propose a third category is necessary: curious.
Curious buyers want to start the process of learning about vendors, offerings, trends in their industry, etc. They have no compelling event requiring action in the short term. How often have you been browsing in a retail store and a clerk asking: "May I help you?" caused you to leave without buying? Curious Website visitors don't want to be qualified. They will respond better to vendors that electronically nurture them and allow them to self-qualify when they are ready to consider buying.
Most people feel there are great differences in the make-up of sales versus marketing staff. Sellers have the pressure of trying to make quota this year. Marketing looks at a longer horizon. Having said that, many Websites are too anxious to qualify visitors and scare or put off curious visitors. This behavior is likely influenced by the underlying objective of delivering leads for salespeople.
In starting buying experiences electronically, does your Website allow buyers to be curious and learn at the pace they want? As superior salespeople exhibit patience with buyers, so it is with Websites. Curious buyers are looking for:
In the same way a salesperson must establish rapport and competence, the same approach can differentiate your company's Website from the competition. By nurturing curious buyers, you can provide information that allows them to form opinions in defining their requirements. If and when they are serious about buying, the hope is that your company has earned enough mindshare so that your company will be contacted.
Websites and marketing staff are best qualified to nurture visitors over time at a pace curious potential buyers can control while few sellers effectively handle "tire kickers." The ability to nurture goes a long way toward building healthy pipelines and improving early buying experiences.
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